#VFS21: Festival of Innovation attracts record-breaking registrations to boost the South’s economy

Hannah Bergman-Brown - 22nd October 2021

More than a thousand of the South’s business leaders, innovators, investors and entrepreneurs connected at the inspirational #VFS21 Festival of Innovation yesterday at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, and online.

Venturefest South’s fifth annual innovation showcase was record-breaking with more delegates than ever before attending to discover how to access over £1billion of opportunities on offer from VFS partners through support, funding and investment.

Maritime UK Solent hosted the cutting-edge Navigating Net Zero summit at #VFS21, aimed at exploring global concerns and designing a new route to Net Zero. Participants were given the opportunity to find out more about what Solent businesses are doing to reduce carbon emissions to make a positive difference in the climate challenge.

This summit was exciting, productive and very well timed, coming just ahead of the COP26 global climate change conference and in the same week as the Government announced its Net Zero Strategy.

We discovered a real desire among those who participated to work together at both regional and national level to inspire positive climate change action and work towards a Net Zero future. We hope the Navigating Net Zero summit hosted by Maritime UK Solent, and the launch of the Solent LEP’s framework for a ‘Ten Point Plan to Build Back Greener in the Solent’ at Venturefest, will both act as catalysts for real progress in the region.

~ Stuart Baker, Managing Director, Maritime UK Solent

Headline partner Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) took the platform at #VFS21 to share details of an impressive extra £1 billion for UK science and technology research over the next four years.

Dstl is accelerating efforts to modernise the armed forces, develop world-leading capabilities, and to keep the UK safe from evolving threats. We love nothing more than seeing small innovative organisations deliver a big impact for UK defence and security and have made some brilliant connections at Venturefest.

~ Matt Chinn, Head of Platform Services Division, Dstl

Visitors were also drawn to another headline partner, BAE Systems’ Innovation Labs where they were invited to explore partnering and funding opportunities.

The University of Southampton had funded support on offer for collaborative research and development, and for delivering innovation projects for local businesses; while the University of Portsmouth gave delegates access to its new initiatives, including the Creative and Immersive Extended Reality Centre and the Centre for Enzyme Innovation. Both universities are VFS partners.

Other highlights included business support for start-ups from partner Portsmouth City Council’s Economic Growth team, with advice on grants and loans and access to mentoring, learning and development initiatives.

Funding and Research and Development gurus Catax, also a sponsor, were on hand to give companies the right support to access an estimated £16bn in tax credits owed to businesses in the South.

There was plenty of additional funding support and guidance at the event from other #VFS21 partners, including Southampton City Council; Solent University; Fareham College; Basingstoke Get Launched; Solent Local Enterprise Partnership; Carswell Gould; KTN; European Regional Development Fund and Hampshire Conference Bureau.

Delegates also found helpful advice from the other sponsors – Hampshire Chamber of Commerce; Greentech South; British Business Bank; Azets UK; Enterprise Business South; Business Innovation South; Business South; The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA); Ploughshare; NatWest; Creative Network South and Southpoint Films.

#VFS21 exhibitors on show were: ESA Business Applications; GetSet Solent; Optima Projects Ltd; Royal Academy of Engineering; Murgitroyd; Oxford Computer Consultants; Idea Reality; Barclays Eagle Lab; The FSE Group; Starling Bank; Coffin Mew; Geovation and Maucher Jenkins.

Innovation Talks at the annual showcase featured a range of business speakers who provided a unique insight into driving innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and business growth.

The Open Mic pitching competition proved as popular as ever with contenders competing in the Battle of the Open Mic.

Human Beauty’s Millie Flemington-Clare was presented with the Open Mic Pitching Champion 2021 award at the end of the day, along with awards for this year’s Innovator of the Year – Maverick Aviation; Acoustic Black Holes won the Early Stage Innovator Award and Sustainable Innovation Leader was Oxto Energy.

The VFS awards were a really brilliant way to end the day and we were delighted to acknowledge some really credible winners.

~ Tim Croft, National Head of R&D, Azets

Ed Gould, Creative Director at Carswell Gould and #VFS21 partners welcomed the delegates to the event. Later, he said: “What a fantastic comeback for Venturefest South’s Festival of Innovation after last year’s pandemic hit us so hard. We’ve seen a record number of registrations and presented a stunning display of business creativity. and had great feedback from our partners and sponsors who had a productive day making new connections and promoting the opportunities for funding and other support they have to offer. Today has been a clear reminder to us all that this region offers people the ability to turn good ideas into great business. There was real positive energy at the event as everybody committed to making new things happen for themselves, each other and the region’s economy.”

On behalf of all my fellow VFS partners, I would like to thank the innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and event team for making this such a huge success. Venturefest South drives economic growth by highlighting business opportunities, connecting people and inspiring thinking. This year we excelled as the event attracted a record number of attendees, more sponsors, more investment opportunities and more excitement.

~ Sarah Duckering, University of Portsmouth and Funding Partner of VFS
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